Front Matter/Back Story: Jason Zicha, master rod builder at Fall River Fly Rods, fashioned a custom bamboo rod especially for a promotional tour courtesy of the Outdoor Blogger Network. Accompanying the rod is a Madison II Reel by Montana Fly Company spooled with a Trout LT DT5F fly line by Rio. Fifteen blogger/anglers were chosen to spend a couple of weeks each with the outfit before passing it along to the next person. After a cross country trip that will have endured more than half a year, the outfit will conclude its journey by permanently going home with one lucky angler/blogger. I was one of the fortunate folks chosen to spend time with this outfit during its journey.
I knew it was coming as far back as last April. I knew it wouldn’t be getting to me until Fall, hopefully in time for some Autumn baetis action on the Yakima River. Fall River Fly Rods, aptly named it would seem. I envisioned myself presenting tiny mayfly patterns to wary fish. Delicate delivery would be the ticket, and armed with a custom bamboo fly rod I would be up to the task, or at least the rod would be.
As the months droned on I grew increasingly Worried (yes, with a capital W). Having a last name that begins with the letter “W” I’m no stranger to being at the end of the list: all during my school years I got one of the last picks of a desk in the classroom (which usually meant right by the teacher’s desk); when it came time for class registration I got the leftovers. Nor am I unaccustomed to being one of the last ones chosen during kickball team selection, but that had little to do with alphabetical order. This time, however, I cannot blame my forefathers because the schedule for this travelling rod was not based on last names. I thought per chance the schedule was based on the alphabetical listing of the host states because, after all, the first visit along its journey took the rod to Arizona. But then it skipped ahead to New Mexico so that blows my theory out of the water. All I know is that the package didn’t arrive at my home in Washington until November and unfortunately that was too late for me. Certainly there are still trout fishermen out plying the frigid waters this time of year, but with no available weekends until after Thanksgiving I simply ran out of time. The rod was on a schedule: it had places to go; people to see.
And so here this beautiful rod arrives after all these months of waiting and anticipating, and because of bad timing I don’t even get to fish it. I reckon this was my destiny—the ultimate angling unaccomplishment.
Knowing that I would not be able to give this rod its due, I gave it what I was able. I sat with it, fondling and admiring the rod. The experience began with the shipping tube, which resembled the barrel of a bazooka in both size and weight. This monstrous PVC fortress was created with protection in mind and for good reason: inside were valuable contents. More than just a shipping tube, the Bazooka itself tells the story of cross-country travel as it was slathered with stickers of all sorts, and enough Priority Mail tape to span from one coast to the next, from border to border. Following directions, I opened the end labeled, “Open This End.” It took me a while to cut through all the clear tape.
The first item to emerge was a small aluminum box containing a few flies that the blogger/anglers had donated. I contributed to the collection but won’t tell you what I offered up (it wouldn’t earn me any respect or gratitude). Next up was the neoprene pouch containing the Madison II reel from Montana Fly Company, emblazoned in their river rock pattern. Last to emerge was a hand-made oak case containing the rod (the case is a functional work of art in and of itself). Once I had extracted the goods, I got down to the business of looking at it. In a discussion over at the Facebook place, Poppy Cummins of the Red Shed Fly Shop was quoted as saying:
“Playing with cane is like looking over the back fence at the naked neighbor lady. Once you start you can’t stop.”
I will say that over the next week and a half I did an awful lot of looking, and it was hard to divert my gaze. Though I enjoyed the scenery, guilt gnawed at my gut, slowly eating away at me. The burning in my belly was a reminder that as beautiful as it is, this is a rod to be used; not just ogled over. I wished like hell I could have fished it. I read through the journal that accompanied the outfit along it’s journey: no one else prior to me had mentioned not fishing the rod.
I know next to nothing about bamboo rods. In my ignorance I always assumed all were delicate, flimsy noodles: either antique collector’s items or modern showpieces. But the rod’s designer states very clearly that this rod is not your grandfather’s bamboo rod, and I will echo that sentiment. I have an old bamboo rod that belonged to my grandfather and it would be accurate to describe it as a whispy piece of grass. I’ve never fished it; never wanted to after wiggling it—I mean, who has 5 minutes to wait between forward and back casts? I do remember a tip my grandfather gave me many years ago which I was prepared to employ with the Fall River rod until I read the directions from Jason Zicha that were included in the Bazooka: “Do not apply any oil or nose grease to the ferrule.” So much for my grandfather’s advice.
After a lengthy lawn casting session with the Fall River rod (during which I did not rise a single Lawn Trout), I can tell you that it is no limp-wristed wussy. It does have ample flex, but it is not a slow-action rod. I was able to quickly adapt to the rod’s action and get casts out to around 40 feet with ease. I was surprised, and then I read the description of the South Fork on the Fall River website:
“The South Fork model was designed with a new generation of anglers in mind. It’s moderate/fast action has a more familiar feel to today’s modern angler who has grown accustomed to the feel of graphite fly rods. 8’ in length, it’s powerful spine has the power needed to fish our large, open, windy Western Rivers. The smooth action has been refined to throw anything from a midge to streamers.”
With the delicate tip—not delicate so much in construction but rather in feel—I could unfold a cast and lay the tippet onto the grass with a certain finesse that is difficult with my graphite rods. In the time I spent on the lawn with the rod, I did notice that it’s heavier than my graphite sticks, but that’s to be expected. The action of the rod felt remarkably familiar and was not what I expected. I’ve become so accustomed to the uber-light, nimble ways of my fast-action arsenal of graphite rods that I’ve also become disconnected to the casting experience that only slowing down can bring back. Getting into the slower rhythm of this rod had a sort of soothing effect— even if I was standing in my front yard as school buses drove past and the neighbor’s dog barked from behind its fence. A bubbling mountain stream would have been a more suitable setting in which to cast this rod. A suburban lawn just seemed wrong—an injustice. Again, my destiny.
The nickel silver stripping guide is inlayed with a natural agate that is saw-cut, drilled, polished and then set into the frame. Fall River Fly Rods buys these pre-made, because as Jason Zicha says, “It is an art form of its own.” Everything about this rod is beautiful in it’s craftsmanship, but it’s no showboat. Again, the South Fork is built to fish.
I begrudgingly place the rod, reel and box of flies into the shipping tube and sealed it closed with a pound of strapping tape. I slapped on an Unaccomplished Angler sticker and drove to the post office. Next destination, Spokane WA. I hope Josh Mills has an opportunity to fish it. I know the weather in Spokane is colder than it is on my side of the state and trout fishing may be a bit out of season.
If the rod could speak, its parting words for me would surely have been, “Good riddance.”
Fall is officially here and it’s a time of year that many anglers welcome thanks to the emergence of some noteworthy insects. With summer now in the rear-view mirror, hoppers and stones taper off and give way to baetis hatches that bring trout to the surface for some challenging autumnal angling: tiny bugs, light tippet, and water that is—to use an already overused term—gin clear. Another important bug, the October Caddis, offers an important source of calories to fish preparing for the long winter ahead. These large flies, in all their pumpkin-orange splendor, also signal that it’s time for humans to up their caloric intake by consuming vast quantities of completely unnecessary Halloween candy. Case in point: we’ve had exactly 2 trick-or-treaters at our house in 10 years, and yet we’re always somehow prepared with several pounds of candy bars. Fall is also a time that another insect rears it’s ugly head: The European Crane Fly. They may or may not be prevalent near every trout stream in the world, but if you have a yard with grass you’re likely to witness this abundant fall hatch.
The severity of the Crane Fly hatch can vary from year to year, and in my assessment a lot depends on how moist the previous spring was. If the ground in which the grass grows remains damp and cool, a
good bountiful fall hatch can be expected. Given how extended and wet our Pacific Northwest Spring was this year thanks to La Niña (a.k.a. “The Bitch”), the Crane Fly hatch taking place right now is—to use another overused term—epic. The nymphal shucks can be seen scattered all over the lawn, and all I have to do is walk through the grass on my daily poop patrol to observe the adults fluttering about in every direction as they hook up with sexual partners before seeking moist, cool areas in which to lay their eggs. If I were to close my eyes I could easily imagine myself walking not across the lawn, but instead wading in a river as fish rise with reckless abandon to pick off these large, clumsy bugs. If I closed my eyes I’d also step in dog shit, so I keep my eyes peeled accordingly. Subsequently I see no fish rising to eat Crane Flies.
Crane flies can be the bane of lawn owners and many use pesticides to kill the larvae (a.k.a. “leather jackets”), which may damage a lawn as they feed on the roots of the grass. The grubs are big, thick, meaty, nasty looking maggots that resemble something people would eat on the too-long running television show, Survivor. When densely populated, these grubs can devastate entire sections of lawn.
In order to control the larvae chemically, I’ve been told to use pesticides in the two months beginning with A: April and August. Apparently using a pesticide in April kills the grubs as they begin to actively feed, and applying again in August kills any grubs not killed in April, before they can hatch, lay eggs, and complete the circle. I’m generally opposed to using pesticides for obvious reasons, though I have been known in the past to spot treat small areas where the infestation of Crane Fly grubs was heavy. Still, chemicals that will kill bugs will kill other things that we may not want killed, and pollutants run downhill and eventually end up in our streams. Where fish live. As they say over at Recycled Fish, “Our lifestyles run downstream.” So, please read the warning labels before you decide to use chemicals on your lawn. Pesticides bad!
My opposition to using damaging chemicals recently gave rise to an alternative, organic idea that I think would appeal to many: Lawn Trout. Now I know what you’re saying: “Lawn Trout would be no different than moles, and would subsequently cause collateral damage beyond their benefit.” Before we more closely examine the idea of Lawn Trout, let’s first unearth some information regarding moles.
As hard as it is to imagine, there is an apparent benefit to having moles in your yard. If you look beneath the cosmetic damage caused by these velvet-coated, tunnel-digging pests, they are (allegedly) beneficial because they aerate the soil and control damaging subterranean insects (such as Crane Fly larvae). While that may supposedly be true, I would say to those who would tout the merits of moles, “You don’t have moles.” Well, I have moles. They’ve caused damage to more sections of my yard than any amount of Crane Flies, and there is no permanent means of keeping moles out of one’s yard, shy of digging a 5 foot deep trench around the perimeter of your property and filling it with concrete (if you do this, make damn sure there are no moles inside the barrier you’re constructing). Moles can be very difficult to trap, although I have had some success in doing so, from which I derived great pleasure. I make no apologies for this.
But Lawn Trout would not, like moles, burrow under the ground: they would cruise the surface. A Lawn Trout may pick at bugs on the ground and even make redds in your flower gardens, but they would no sooner burrow into the ground than trout burrow into the streambed. It’s a difficult concept to grasp so I’ve included a technical diagram to better illustrate the key differences between Lawn Trout and Moles:
In layman’s terms, you’ll be able to see Lawn Trout, whereas moles are sneaky and cowardly. Imagine, if you will, sitting on the porch proudly gazing out at your yard as Lawn Trout routinely cruise the expanse of lawn, feeding on damaging insects such as Crane Flies. The Lawn Trout would also control the mosquito population, which is problematic in many areas.
Obviously you would want to get up early or be watchful in the evening to observe most Lawn Trout activity, however on rainy, cloudy, miserable days you may even see Lawn Trout during midday as well. If you live where I do, you’ll routinely see Lawn Trout during midday. You may even see them beyond the perimeter of your yard as they venture about in search of food. Be on the alert when driving in Lawn Trout country!
Lawn Trout would be free to come and go as they please, but the yard is where we must focus most of our attention, for it is the yard that will provide critical habitat for and derive the most benefit from Lawn Trout. The natural fish fertilizer would be excellent for the grass and other decorative plantings, unlike feline “Almond Roca” or piles of canine excrement which must be manually removed as it offers absolutely no benefit to one’s yard whatsoever. No need to spend hard-earned money at the hardware store when the same thing at no cost, thanks to Lawn Trout!
And speaking of Almond Roca, a resident Lawn Bull Trout living under your deck would surely solve the problem of the neighbor lady’s cat using your planter beds as its personal litter box.
It’s pretty clear already that the natural benefits of Lawn Trout will make them a welcome addition to any yard, but the presence of these overland salmonids needn’t be a matter of practicality without the potential for play. There’s no reason why lawn casting shouldn’t take on an added dimension: the chance to catch a fish while practicing your double haul!
Furthermore, that same backyard sport needn’t stop with the home owner. Instead of chasing tennis balls or cats (if there are any cats left by now), the energetic family dog would be kept highly entertained by the presence of terrestrial pods of trouts. It’s safe to assume that Labradors could easily be taught to fetch and release. That is, if they could even catch a Lawn Trout.
Having a few Lawn Trout around the homestead may not be a substitute for actual fishing, but it may help ease the pain and suffering between fishing trips. We know that anglers love to fish, but let’s be honest—we cannot fish all the time. So when the angler cannot be on the water, what greater domestic pleasure can a fisherman derive than watching his wife mow the lawn? Watching his wife mow the lawn while Lawn Trout scurry playfully about the yard!
As Lawn Trout spread in popularity there will undoubtedly be some recreational landscapers who report sightings of Lawn Steelhead. These fanciful claims should be regarded with caution and skepticism. Without conclusive photographic proof, the authenticity of such outrageous claims cannot be accepted as truth. Do not trust grainy photographs or bad video footage as evidence of the existence of these mythical creatures.
In addition to such ridiculous claims as Lawn Steelhead I suppose it’s certain to happen that with Lawn Trout would come less desirable species. There’s not much one can do about that so tolerance, if not outright acceptance, should be the yard owner’s goal as long as the undesirables aren’t damaging shrubbery. Some species, such as Lawn Grass Carp may even keep weeds in check and reduce the frequency with which your lawn needs mowing. And before you curse the presence of the Lawn Whitefish, remember–they may be an indication of a healthy yard. In fact, if you’ve got Lawn Whitefish, chances are you’ve also got a Blue Ribbon Lawn Trout Yard!
What of those burrowing vermin that were discussed earlier? Envision a 30-inch, hook-jawed meat eater lying in wait under a rhododendron for the sun to go down. As darkness falls and mole activity increases, the Brown Lawn Trout goes hunting. End of mole problem.
My plan sounds remarkably foolproof but I will admit that the biggest challenge I see facing Lawn Trout is the matter of air. Fish need water over their gills in order to breath, and even though the Pacific Northwest gets more than enough rain to keep things soggy most of the year (which Crane Flies like), it’s probably not enough water to sustain Lawn Trout (except during floods). That being said, maybe a few decorative Lawn Trout statues strategically placed throughout the yard would suffice to keep the Crane Flies at bay and scare off the moles. They may not be as good as the real thing, but at the very least ornamental Lawn Trout would be a welcome alternative to other yard decorations, right?